Sunday, February 24, 2013

Let Go of Worry

Affirmation:  I let go of worry.

She just announced she's going to Cuba.  It's not her first trip.  She's gone there before.  My first thought is "She is so brave."  My second thought is "I hope she has a safe trip."  My third thought goes to my greatest fear, "I hope she's not abducted by a band of rebel guerrillas and made to traipse through the jungle where she gets all wrinkled and dies ugly."  Worry.  I'm already worrying about her safety and for that matter, my safety and I'm not even going.  
My mediation reading this morning was about worry.  It said worrying about something was akin to having a headache and banging your head against a wall to get rid of it.  I can be an active headbanger but I have decided to stop worrying.  I have decided to give up worry for Lent. Do you think that's possible?  

The famous comedienne George Burns once did a whole routine about worry.  He said he gave up worry when he realized how futile it was.  "It serves no purpose to worry about something you can't do anything about and if you're worried about something you can do something about, well just go do it!"  

My paternal grandmother developed Alzheimer's at a very young age.  She died at the age of 72.  I believe they first started to notice a change in behavior at the age of 55.  I now bring communion for my church to an Alzheimer's unit.  Most of the residents are women.  I began worrying about getting Alzheimer's when I first heard it could be hereditary.  I was in my early 30's.  I even considered getting some sort of long term care health insurance.  I shared my concern with my young teenage daughter.  Her response, "Oh, Mom, that's so silly.  By the time your that age, they'll have a cure for it."  I stopped worrying.  She was wrong, but it didn't matter.  I was able to let it go.

Worry can permeate our lives like a cancer, slowly growing without our ever recognizing the detrimental affect it is having.  Not only does it undermine our sense of peace but physically it causes the body’s sympathetic nervous system to release stress hormones such as cortisol. It is natural to be concerned about our lives but there is a difference between concern and obsession.  Once we become obsessed with a concern we are in a place that won't allow us to clearly view our situation, we become muddled.  It truly is a useless exercise, waisting so much of our precious energy. Sometimes, however, all the positive thinking in the world will not decrease your anxiety.  There is a condition known as Generalized Anxiety Disorder and it is treatable with medication and cognitive behavioral therapy.  It's not always just in our mind, sometimes it's chemical and in order to turn things around, one may need some additional assistance.  

Last week a meteor, the size of a school bus, 10,000 tons with the power of an atomic bomb, landed in Russia.  A number of people died. There were numerous videos of it streaking across the early morning skies.  It appears all the cars in Russia have cameras on them to record any accident that takes place.  The cameras are designed to act as a third, impartial witness.  I couldn't help wonder how many people that day were worrying about an asteroid landing on them? In my husband's book, Humanity at Work, he tells the story of the fish and the pelican. There's the fish swimming along watching out for the barracuda or some other predator when along comes a pelican and swoops it up, a creature from another universe totally foreign to the fish's world.  We have no idea what life is going to present us with, a meteor or perhaps a pelican. I felt like a meteor landed on my life when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999.  I know I speak for many when I say that many of the physical diagnosis we receive come as total shocks.  Sometimes they are conditions we have never even heard about.  We may not even be able to pronounce them or perhaps we have heard about them but never considered they would affect us.  Truly, if we really wanted to worry all the time, I'm sure we could make up lots of stuff.  Actually, most of our worries are fantasy driven because we can never know what the future will bring, we can only guess. Let go of your concerns for the future, focus on the now.  

This is one of the wonderful side effects of prayer and mediation.  When we have a practice that brings us back to the present, we can use it in times of concern to recognize we have jumped off into the unknown and to bring ourselves back to the here and now.  Prayer and the belief in a benevolent God can bring great peace.

In Conversation with God, Father Francis Fernandez addresses the passage from Matt 6:34, Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day. He goes on to say, “What matters is today. Worry magnifies the difficulties and diminishes our ability to fulfill the duty of the present moment. We can live only in the present. Anxieties almost always arise because we fail to put all our effort into the here and now.” If we believe we will be given the graces we need in order to contend with anything that crops up. We will be victorious! 

Perhaps with continued practice, I will let go of worry.  Perhaps I will even be able to celebrate in my friend's trip to Cuba and instead of feeling anxious about it, send her along with heartfelt blessings and a vision of a wonderful adventure.   

Friday, February 15, 2013

Rising with Christ

Affirmation: I know by meditating on Jesus throughout my day, I am in union with the Divine, miracles are created and without struggle my life is transformed in ways beyond my imagination.

Lent is upon us. As I write this Ash Wednesday has passed. Lent is one of my favorite times of the year.  In the Catholic tradition, ashes are smeared on one's forehead in the sign of a cross with the words, "Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return." Genesis 3:19.   It is a reminder of our mortality and of the promises of Christ of our life to come. Lent in the Catholic faith is the time to prepare for the death and most importantly, the miraculous resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Wow! What a story! And, we are called to travel with Him on His journey. We are called to stay present to the time, the season, the death and the rebirth. It’s a time that takes many of us out of the depths of “winter” and into the fullness of “spring.”

One of the challenges offered to us during Lent is to make it a time of sacrifice. We are encouraged to deny ourselves and to do works of mercy. Oh, I don’t think it has to be any great effort but we are called to do something so that we are more aware of the 46 days; so we stay more present to the Lenten season. It’s a gift we give ourselves.

If you grew up with this concept of Lent, you know the first question most people are asked about their Lenten practice is, “What are you giving up for Lent?” While I understand it is a season of fasting and abstinence, it’s also a time to rest in the Lord, to take time to listen to God's voice, to the voices of our Angels and Guides. It’s a time to share those things that are truly precious to me; my time, talent and treasure. It’s a time to plant some seeds and to tend to them so they may produce the flowers and fruits of love and joy. Now, that is something that takes quite a bit of guidance. What needs to do be done to create such a bountiful harvest?

Several years ago, Father Emmanuel from Africa gave the Ash Wednesday homily. He had a very eastern approach to Lent. He said he had watched our American culture take on more, do more and struggle more during Lent and he wondered if maybe we shouldn’t consider “doing less.” Doing less!! Oh my, now that's a self-discipline I might find very difficult to embrace. I like to “do.” I like to be busy, busy, busy. I like to think I’m making a difference in the world. I’m contributing; I’m making the world a better place to live. And now, I am being challenged to do less.  At another time another visiting African priest also presented the concept of doing with less.  This time he suggested we fast not only from food but from the internet, the TV, radio and newspapers.  Instead of focusing on worldly events, he suggested we use all that free time to connect to God.

How can denial and service be a gift we give ourselves? Well, it takes 40 days to develop a habit and this type of exercise can be seen as an opportunity. I know many people who use the Lenten sacrifice as a time to diet. I can’t count the number of people who have shared with me that they give up chocolate or sugar. Maybe that’s worked well for them. Perhaps every time they have that craving, they find themselves more present to Christ and his sacrifice. But, besides a restrictive diet, we need to take up the badge of service, find something we can do for another. There are so many in such dire straits right now. How can I be of more service than I already am? Maybe I need to go through the house and give up a few coats and other items of clothing. One of my dear friends is always reminding me that someone else could be using the items I have left untouched for months and in some cases, years. Perhaps, it’s a time for me to be a prayer warrior. How can I add more prayer to my daily practice especially for those most in need? Maybe I can send a note or make a call once or twice a week to friends I haven’t touched base with in a while? I can pray for them, offer up a day for them, and send them a visible sign of my love, like a note or a card, even an email might work. I’m sure you can think of many other ways to give back.

And, what can I give up? What new habit can I develop over the Lenten season that won’t simply reduce my waistline but will add to the quality of my life, my life and hopefully the lives of all those I touch? I decided to give up ingratitude. Ingratitude is defined in the dictionary as “forgetfulness or poor return for kindness received.” A synonym is “thanklessness.”

I live a life full of abundant blessings. I am a very lucky woman. I am loved by my family and have many wonderful friends. I need and want nothing. I am beyond lucky and extremely grateful. I am safe, secure, and healthy. But, every so often envy slips into my psyche. I’m admitting it. I can still find myself listening to or watching others and wonder what I did wrong. Why didn’t I make that choice; why didn’t I travel that path; why do their lives appear so easy, so full? Sometimes it’s little things that I find myself dwelling on and other times, it’s some major issue. But, that doesn’t serve me or anyone else. Whether I give credit to God, to fate or to my own hard work for the life I now live, being ungrateful is plain wrong. By giving up ingratitude I found myself noticing when I undermine my own happiness and I stop and let it go. Perhaps by letting go of ingratitude for 46 days, I’ll develop a new habit. Maybe by the end of Lent, I will rise too, to a new awareness, a new way of thinking about my life; a way that brings me and those in my life, a sense of greater peace and joy.

I have accepted the challenges presented to me for this season and have decided that with my “free” time, I will pray more and I will listen harder. I believe that with these steps in practice, I  open myself to God’s grace and move forward in whatever direction I am led. I’ve decided not to be in charge but am hoping that by focusing on my faith, on my relationship with Christ, I will be led to that place where it’s not up to me how I use my time, treasure and talent, but up to God and that with the guidance of my Angels and Guides in those quiet moments, I will be used as their instrument.

This is my Lenten practice.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Nurturing Relationships

Affirmation: My friends bless my life, I accept them as they are and treasure their relationships with me.

I like people. When I’ve taken the Meyers Briggs Personality Test, I come out evenly between the introvert and the extrovert. The test doesn’t tell you how well you relate to people, but whether or not you get energy from being with people or being alone. The goal is to find a middle ground. For me, I need some of both and the challenge can be finding that balance.
I remember when I was in graduate school getting my Masters in Social Work. My very first course was taught by a dynamite young woman. She was so energetic and knowledgeable. It was a fun and interesting course. She came in one day and it was immediately noticeable to me that she was not her usual self. She went on to teach the class. It was a three hour class. As the class progressed, she seemed to be feeling better. Her energy level seemed to be rising and she seemed to be enjoying the process more and more. When the class ended, I took the time to chat with her and I asked her how she was feeling. She told me she felt great but that when she had first arrived for the class, she had a migraine headache. Teaching the class had helped her eliminate the headache.
I, too, am a migraine sufferer. I’ve had a few “doozies.” I can tell you, standing in front of a classroom for three hours and teaching would not be the way for me to eradicate a headache. I need medication and a dark, quiet room. I decided there and then, this woman was getting her energy in a very different way than I was. She’s probably a high level extrovert.
I work very hard at staying connected to my family and friends. I know how important it is for my psychological and physical well-being. It’s easier sometimes than others. I seem to be able to putter around the house forever. I love a day when I have nothing scheduled and I get to go about town doing my errands and perhaps stopping somewhere fun for a quiet lunch and an opportunity to people watch.
Sometimes I fall into the trap of finding fault with my family and my friends. But, how does that improve the quality of my life? If I’m finding fault with them, what are they thinking about me, if they’re thinking anything at all? I want to simply enjoy my relationships, even those casual ones that come from interacting with people who are working to help me with all my different projects and errands. I want to like and to appreciate everyone. I know that isn’t feasible but I can make an effort.
When I heard the story about an elderly woman's funeral who had kept a Prayer Pouch, I was intrigued.  It appears she had only lived in her new community a short while but was very involved in the lives of all those with whom she interacted.  When people shared a concern, she would write it out and put it in her Prayer Pouch. She then made an effort to reconnect with the person to see how they were doing. Her funeral, I was told, had people from every phase of her life; they were from the grocery store, the deli, the church and the restaurants she frequented.  She was described to me as a saint because of her positive effect on the world.  She was a missionary in her own part of the world.  She cared and so people cared about her.
Relationships can be a tricky thing. I think most of our problems and issues relate to our relationships. There have certainly been a million books about them and how to improve them or deal with them, or understand them. Some of the most famous TV shows revolved around relationships: Seinfeld, All in the Family, Raymond and my favorite, The Golden Girls.  How do you do with your relationships? Are you more at ease with strangers or in your family circle? 
I’ve been married a long time, almost 43 years at this writing. Every so often, my husband, Sandy, speaks about his “good friend” and then he gives me a name. I cannot tell you how many times I have not had a clue who the person is that he has mentioned. One day, I asked him how come he thought of so many people as being his “good friend.” He told me, he chose to think of them that way. He chose to think about and refer to many of his acquaintances as good friends. Sandy is an unusual man in many ways but one quality he has which I have been told by friends that their husbands do not have, is he has a huge range of friends and he does a remarkable job of keeping in touch with most of them. I loved the idea that he also claimed them as his good friends. Why not? How we think about others is very often how they think about us. I believe it must be very unusual to have someone in our lives that we dislike that likes us.

I’ve had my struggles. I try hard to get along with everyone but I find some to be easier than others. I have a friend who refers to herself as a “low maintenance” friend. It’s the truth isn’t it? Some people we simply flow along with, others are often trying to pull us upstream. In Conversation with God, the author talks about “affability.” He says it’s not a trait most pay attention to but when it’s missing, it’s always noticeable.  It's defined as the ability to be kind, pleasant and gracious. I have found one way to appreciate people is to simply accept them for the way they are, not to judge. I value the people in my life and along with valuing them, offer up prayers for their well-being and for that of their loved ones. If I choose to believe my friends bless my life, they will. If I choose to believe they are draining my energy and causing me angst that too will be true. Once again, it depends on me and the way I choose to think. I want to be affable to all the people in my life and I hope they will respond in kind.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Embracing Adventure

Affirmation:  I am a bold adventuress.

This is a very clear example of creating an affirmation to change the way I want to think.   I want to believe with all my heart that I am not afraid of most things, especially an "adventure."  There are all types of adventures some we choose and some which are chosen for us.  I don't care; I want to embrace every one of them.  I want to embrace every aspect of life and I think most of life is that which happens between our plans and usually that requires a sense of adventure.  Perhaps being a daring adventurer requires all those skills I've worked on over the years and have in my "tool box?"

It seems to me an adventurer or adventuress needs to be flexible. My husband and I were on our way to a vacation and it required us to fly there.  We were meeting our daughter and future son-in-law in the Caribbean.  I've come to believe anytime flying is involved, some sort of adventure will present itself and all the survival skills I've been practicing over the years will be needed to finish the journey.  On this particular occasion I was right.  It seemed anything that could delay a flight, delayed our flight from a malfunctioning de-icer to a sick passenger, to mechanical difficulties.  There we sat going nowhere.  After a three hour delay, we took off.  If there were a miracle we would make our next flight.  There might have been one but we weren't aware of it.  We missed the next flight by 20 minutes. All of the flights the next day were full.  They could send us through Puerto Rico and then onto our final destination.  We'd arrive, hopefully, 12 hours after our original time.

The greatest loss I experienced with cancer was the loss of my intuition.  I always trusted I knew, without reason, what was going to happen.  I had had many life experiences when I knew ahead of time how things were going to work out even when no one else could see it.  When the word "cancer" was first mentioned to me, it didn't register.  I had no forewarning.  I couldn't imagine what they were talking about.  I didn't believe them.  The poor physician who first uttered "breast cancer" to me, I just about attacked him.  What did he know?  That was ridiculous!  I knew he was wrong.  They weren't wrong and there I was going on an adventure I hadn't chosen and of which I'd never even dreamed. 

I'd always worked hard to be healthy.  I exercised, I gave up smoking, I only drank alcohol periodically and I really did try to eat healthily.  After the cancer treatments were discontinued I began to look at more modalities I could enlist to stay healthy. I've spoken with many people who go searching for those things that will keep disease at bay.  It doesn't have to be cancer.  It can be heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, high blood pressure.  The list is long.  Sometimes I hear about ailments that only a tiny portion of the population ever experience and hope that I never have to deal with something so rare but rare or not, there's always that tiny, sometimes not so tiny, voice that is questioning what is going on inside my body that I have no knowledge of and of which I have no control over.  Oh, I'm trying to control it.  That's what all those extra measures for staying healthy are all about, vegan eating, no alcohol, exercise every day, take my vitamins and have my yearly screenings.  It's my attempt to keep illness at bay, to trick myself into believing I have control over what's going on but I don't really, do I?  Certainly, I can do all within my ability but after that, who really knows?

My husband handed me a short story about a young man who was so anxious about his health that he had stopped living.  It revolved around an older professor and his assistant.  After the professor listened to his young friend's concerns, he went to tell him about his great-grandfather.  His great grandfather had had all sorts of health ailments, including losing an arm in one of the wars but he wasn't as concerned with disease and death as he was with living.  He had a zest for life and it couldn't be dimmed.  He wasn't going to go quietly into the night and if he did, he was going to go with the vast, colorful memories of a life well lived. 

Balance is another skill I've worked on over the years.  In yoga you normally have one or two balance poses you practice in every session.  There is a balance between living recklessly and living so small that you might as well already be dead.  That's where being an adventurer or adventuress comes in.  It's deciding to embrace the experience whatever it is or whenever it presents itself.  

As we boarded the second plane to Puerto Rico a petite blonde women came and sat in the window seat next to me.  I don't remember how the conversant started, probably with just a nod and a hello, like so many casual meetings.  We exchanged a few niceties about where we were going and why.  I on vacation with my family, she returning to one of her two homes, one in Majorca and one in Antigua.   She lived on a ship.  It was being restored in English Harbor, Antigua.  It was a classic and she invited me to come see it.  The name?  The Adventuress. 

We took one day from the delights of the resort and headed out to see some of the island.  We finally reached English Harbor.  I guess I wasn't really thinking about how to find her ship, I thought I'd just ask.  There were hundreds of ships in the harbor.  After a while and a few questions a delightful young man offered us a ride in his Zodiac.  He thought the ship at the very end of the other side of the harbor might be the one we were looking for.  Off we went.  Yes, it was her ship, The Adventuress.  No, she was nowhere to be found but with the mention of her name, we were invited aboard for a short tour.  It was stunning and certainly something far removed from my realm of experience.  I've not been on a lot of sailing ships.  In fact the person who gave us the tour was the "sail master."  I didn't even know there was such a title. 

I kept thinking about my intention to be grateful for all things at all times.  If we hadn't missed our flight, I never would have met the owner of The Adventuress.  Once again I was faced with the belief that if I'd just relax, trust and rest in God's infinite care, I'd be so much happier, so much calmer.  Perhaps I'd even begin to trust my instinct again.  Perhaps I'd be able to see the adventure thrust on me with the onset of breast cancer.  Maybe if I could embrace that aspect of the diagnosis, the one that lets me see all of life as an adventure, maybe then I could finally fully claim the intention I've had for so very long, "I am a bold adventuress."  I'm not afraid to fully live life and with that, perhaps, like the old man in the story, I'll go to my death with the vast colorful memories of a well lived life.